ORANGE — The recent demolition of an iconic sign at Firelite Plaza has sparked an uproar on social media and accusations that city leaders and developers of the property could have done more to preserve a piece of local history.
The sign stood on Boston Post Road for 62 years and was a loving reminder to longtime residents of the city’s past. The developer, 35 Old Tavern Road, LLC, bought the property in 2018 and tore down the sign earlier this month.
Local residents visited Orange-related Facebook groups to share memories of John and Larry Gaetano, Firelite Shop’s original owners, and to ask why the sign hadn’t survived.
“So sad to see the developer’s disregard for the town’s history,” wrote one resident. “When I was a kid, John owned the beautiful shop that is now the liquor store. His fireplace items made of brass were sold there and buyers came from far and wide because of the quality and beauty of the goods.”
Dan Baughman, the project manager for Cherry Hill Construction, who was hired by the developer, said he saw the comments on social media but said the sign was essentially unrepairable.
“I actually ran brand new electrical wiring underground to accommodate this sign,” Baughman said. “We went in there and investigated and found that it was in a much worse shape than everyone thought.”
Baughman said he was considering maintaining the sign anyway, but it turned out to be blocking necessary access for fire engines. He said the developer offered the sign to city officials for three years without success.
Logistically, Baughman said, the sign is simply too big and in too bad a condition to sustain.
Asked about the shield, First Selectman James Zeoli recalled a conversation where the developer asked him if anyone would be interested in keeping it, but had no idea where it might be kept.
Zeoli said he was aware of the complaints made to the developer and Orange officials, but said he had no ties to or control of the property.
“You’ll see the haters flock, but you won’t see me commenting on Facebook,” he said. “That is not appropriate.”
Ginny Reinhard, president of the Orange Historical Society, responded to questions on Facebook and said she was unaware the sign would be removed and that the society should have been notified.
According to Reinhard, the historical society could have found a place to keep the sign, but “the powers that rule this city looked different.”
After Reinhard posted these comments, she told CT Examiner that her city cellphone had been shut down in retaliation.
Reinhard called her at Verizon Tuesday morning after text messages to her son-in-law could not be sent.
“Verizon has confirmed with Mr. Zeoli that my service has been terminated,” Reinhard told CT Examiner. “Freedom of expression is not free because there are consequences.”
Reinhard said she used the phone to communicate with the police and fire departments about the three buildings the Historical Society leases and maintains. She explained that she used it occasionally to communicate with family, but because the city doesn’t pay her, she felt the phone was an advantage.
“I’m really unhappy about something [Zeoli] done,” said Reinhard. “He might come back with a call. He could drill me. He might insult me. But he did not do it. He did the one thing he knew would bring me down.”
When asked by CT Examiner if he was involved in the termination of Reinhard’s service, Zeoli said he does not authorize city phones or pay the bills.
“I don’t understand why she needs a cell phone that is provided by the city,” Zeoli said. “She is not a city employee or city member in any way, shape or form. And obviously her phone is dead. I heard that.”
Zeoli said Reinhard and the Historical Society should ask the building authority if they issued demolition permits to the developer instead.
“She gives me a lot more credit and power than I do,” Zeoli said.